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Small Business Owners Embrace the Future – Majority Say They Will Adopt Generative AI

As generative AI makes headlines for its impacts in large corporations, FreshBooks shifted the spotlight to small business owners to measure the technology’s influence and usage in this important sector of workers. In a survey of approximately 1000 small business owners from various industries in the United States and Canada, 25% said they’re currently using or testing generative AI tools, like ChatGPT, Google Bard and Microsoft Bing. Adoption of generative AI was relatively uniform across verticals, with the exception of IT/Software. 2 out of 3 business owners say they’ll try generative AI for work within the next 12 months, demonstrating that most small businesses will be using the technology within a year.

Small business owners are less convinced that AI is coming for their jobs and/or the jobs of their employees, with two-thirds disagreeing that AI will replace them. On the other hand, many owners appear confident they can leverage the technology when it comes to employment, with 44% of owners saying they expect to hire fewer people in the future because of AI capabilities. The larger the business, the more likely owners were to agree that AI will result in employing fewer people.

“Anxiety over AI has been growing lately, with workers in certain industries expressing concerns that their jobs will be replaced,” says Mara Reiff, Chief Data Officer at FreshBooks. “In the world of small business, it appears that owners don’t feel particularly threatened and don’t believe artificial intelligence can do their jobs just as well as they can. On the other hand, their eyes are wide open to the potential of using AI as a support to help them scale.”

How are Small Business Owners Using AI?

The large majority of current generative AI adopters said they’re using it to generate text, while a slim majority are applying it to create images or to conduct general business research. When asked how or where AI generated content was being used in their business, most respondents said they were using it on their business websites and social media platforms. Slightly fewer respondents said generative AI content was being used for customer support and communications.

Barriers to AI Adoption

Non-adopters were asked what has prevented them from using generative AI. 46% said they were not yet clear on how generative AI could benefit their business. The second highest reason cited was a lack of knowledge, with 32% saying they were unsure of how to begin applying generative AI to their businesses.

Larger businesses more often cited a lack of time as one of the barriers they had to trying AI versus smaller businesses. The survey also suggests that small business owners aren’t avoiding AI because they’re intimidated by the new technology. Only 16% said they’re not using generative AI because they’re not a ‘technical person.’

Areas of AI Impact

More than half of small business owners, 60%, agree that AI will dramatically change their business within the next 5 years. Owners who have employees were more likely to agree with this statement than those without.

Asked specifically what areas of their business they expect AI to play a key role in the coming years, owners identified Business Analytics, Sales & Marketing and Customer Communications as the most affected areas. Using AI for HR/Recruiting purposes and Service Delivery were rated as the least likely to play a key role.

Whether currently using generative AI, planning to use it, or planning to stay on the sidelines and not use AI anytime soon, nearly all small business owners – 80% – said they’re concerned about privacy, ethical and intellectual property issues associated with AI.

“The survey suggests that most people will be using generative AI in a year, despite these concerns,” says Reiff. “Given the technology is still in its infancy age, it remains to be seen how and where it will be adopted in the value chain for small businesses, but we can conclude that AI will play a significant role in this sector sooner than later.”

Report by FreshBooks